The night following our St. Louis passage was yet another filled with joy and good times. Kyle gave me a birthday gift which he and my dad co-conspired to have delivered in the package my parents sent. He got me a backpacking wine glass! It is really light and the bottom twists off and then fits into the stainless steep cup part. Pretty awesome. We also had a fancy bottle of red Zinfandel wine thanks to Wes from Keokuk. Paired with cheese and crackers topped with fresh garlic, a sunset river view, and even a wind and thunderstorm that passed right by us without dropping any raindrops on our beach, I was quite the happy birthday girl. It all made me feel so blessed and lucky. Kyle then made a scrumptious spaghetti dinner with peas that we ate while walking back and forth on our small sandy island in order not to get eaten by mosquitos. We must have walked back and forth on that small stretch of sand over a dozen times. First eating and then just chatting and enjoying the view of the stars.
Yesterday morning we awoke to a gray sky left over from the midnight rain storm. It was quite chilly and I had to layer up in order to stay warm. The change of temperature brought a feeling of anticipation. I was standing on the cloud covered beach with leggings, a fleece sweatshirt, and my thumbs poking out of the purple long sleeve under my fleece. I let the wind cool my face causing my nose to get real cold. I closed my eyes and imagined how in just a couple months Kyle and I will sailing along in Solvi bundled up with scarves, hats, and gloves. I grinned in excitement of the change of seasons and temperatures. After getting breakfast going and sipping on hot coffee we felt motivated to break down camp. One hour later we were sailing down river in the sunshine taking off layers of clothing and then applying sunscreen. What a contrast to the cold gray morning we woke up to. As the sun rose the clouds grew lighter in color until they were just wisps of different colors, the ghosts of the storm clouds from the night before. We sailed a bit before the wind got finicky and I decided to row. Kyle was working on a project in his notebook and the current was moving us along so quickly I didn’t take rowing very seriously. I sang sea shanties real loud and then followed up by trying to sing songs I don’t know all the lyrics to. Every once in a while I’d stroke the oar to keep us moving straight. The wind picked back up and we were able to sail quite literally 20 miles to a nice sandbar where we decided to stop for the evening. Being on the lower Mississippi has thus far provided a sense of freedom. No dams in our future, just open water, fast current, and all sorts of ridiculous turns and bends in the river all the way to NOLA. We arrived at the sand bar pretty early in the day but it was a big and beautiful and had an old shipwrecked derelict barge to explore so we called it a day. After exploring the barge for a bit I spent the afternoon reading while Kyle fiddled with firewood and setting up our tent. A wind storm came and filled our tent with sand, ha!
The barge was a unique find. I noticed on our chart book that right near where we stopped there was a shipwreck symbol. We walked a couple hundred yards down the beach until we got to some bushes. After carefully examining the brush for poison ivy we pushed aside the bushes and were greeted by a huge pile of driftwood. Little sticks the size of my hand to whole downed trees had been thrown and thrashed about in the muddy river and sandy shore so much that the surface of all the various sticks and trees had been sanded smooth. Nature’s sand paper! The soles of bare feet communicating with my brain, evoking a feeling of relaxation as the smooth texture of the grayed wood passed under my feet with each step. Once clearing the obstacle course of driftwood and spider webs we arrived at the barge. An old metal barge, 200 feet in length and about 60 feet wide. This barge was now covered in some areas with sand and growth. Had parts of it not been showing through we could have walked right over it, never knowing it was rotting below our feet. The mud, sand, and growth that had accumulated on the barge showed the harsh reality that the river will always win in the long term. We can try to sculpt, change, and take over the river with dams, wing dams, and man dug channels, but with time the mighty river will prove her brutality and strength and just as she did with the 200 foot metal barge, she will claim her territory. The earth does no belong to us. We belong to the earth and there is no better example than the ruggedness of the river’s shore. Kyle and I spent time exploring the various aspects of the barge. The large holes on its deck now filled with sand. The green buoy that had wedged itself next to the barge. The massive piece of foam the size of a small house that had made its home in the trees. Even with the growth of bushes and plants, it still looked out of place. We ooed and ahhed at how unique it was to explore. But then as we stepped back and viewed the shipwreck from a distance, we both felt a feeling of disappointment, sadness, embarrassment, as the reality of what was really in front of us sunk in. A wreck. Quite literally a man made wreck, abandoned on the shore left to rot, evidence that our human species doesn’t feel the need to take responsibility for our actions. Leaving a hunk of metal and foam to rot on the earth’s surface pretending that now that it’s hidden, it no longer exists. But it does. Oh how it does.
The rest of our evening was spent as usual. Cooking potatoes over the fire to save stove fuel. Reading, chatting, and sipping on red wine as the earth slowly rotated creating the illusion of the sun set. The sun set is a funny thing. We have labeled it in a way that makes it sound as though the sun is actually moving around us, setting and rising. We have done this because from our perspective, that’s what is happening. But just as Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips says, “Do you realize? Do you realize that the sun doesn’t go down, its just an illusion from the world going round?” I like to remember that from time to time. We have centered everything around us, as though we are the center. But we aren’t. We’re just a small part of a bigger picture. It’s a somewhat scary yet exhilarating feeling, knowing how small we really are, floating in space.
This morning was a slow going one. Kyle got a fire going and cooked quite the elaborate meal over it. Hash browns, eggs, and tomatoes wrapped in a warm tortilla with a cup of steaming coffee. We left our sandy shore around 10:30am and have been sailing really fast since then. The wind both yesterday and today has been from the Northwest, which means we are the happiest sailors in a little boat on the river you ever did meet. Sun is shining, the water is calm, temperature is 72 degrees, and we are sailing at a comfortable 6 knots. Due to the wind coming from behind us we do not have to tack over the sail. Therefore the entire time I’ve been writing this I have not had to move. The wind fills the sail from behind so Solvi surges forward. It’s going to be a spectacular day.
A few hours later: As we sail down the river I see the shore line- raw, naked, barren in some areas. The river stripped away everything it could leaving only the bare minimum of what is necessary for the trees to survive, or at least try to survive. Roots showing through revealing their naked vulnerability, grasping the shore line in desperation to hold onto anything that will let it. Each root like a sweaty finger of a child attempting to hold on to monkey bars. The river wants the tree just as gravity wants the child. Sometimes the fingers just can’t hold on and the flowing water swallows the tree churning it in every direction before spitting it out down river. Stripping it of leaves, bark, branches- leaving just its core, robbed of any labels or categories it may have once had. I observe a downed tree on the shore, knowing that before it arrived the tree took a tremendous journey filled with growth, change, challenge. Knowing that with time, it will decay and feed the very earth from which it was born. The harmonica fills the air, in tune with the bristling of the tree tops that are still standing strong and the dance of the eagle soaring above the river. So many eagles along this river, mighty as the water below them. I knew today would be a spectacular day.
We made 40 miles yesterday, all of which were under sail. And not only did we make 40 miles, but we did it in 5 hours which means we were traveling at an average speed of 8mph. For those of you who aren’t familiar with sailing small boats, that is extremely fast. Now the current is moving very quickly so the boat goes down river by itself at about 3, which means we were actually sailing about 5. Either way, it was awesome day of sailing down wind. We’ve been on the river 44 days now, and up until this week have only had about 3 days of north winds. However, this week is scheduled for north or northeast winds everyday. It’s pretty amazing. We really couldn’t be more happy and excited about the conditions. Solvi sails so well down wind that the person on shift doesn’t have to do much other than keep the boat going straight. The person not on shift has 1-2 hours to do whatever they please. So what do you do with 1-2 hours of free time on a small boat? Read. Write. Nap. Stretch. Make Food. Talk on the phone. Relax. Sing Songs. Do laundry. Play harmonica. Sit quietly in awe of the river’s beauty. Pretty much anything you please that can be done in a 10 foot by 4 foot area 🙂 And so for the last 3 days and most likely for the next 3 days, that is how our days go. Kyle and I are both feeling so grateful for the north winds and will soak up every gust it is willing to give us.
After dinner over the fire last night (I cooked this time! Veggie burgers, beans, and corn) we sat around the fire a while enjoying the rare case of no mosquitos. We sat and watched as the light blue sky became blanketed by a darker blue and then gave way to thousands of twinkling lights. We must have been pretty far from any towns because there was no light pollution. Therefore we could see the starts so vividly. If I stared at just one long enough I could see it twinkle. The edge of the Milky Way could be seen as well. The stars so bright and the fire emitting a warm glow close to the earth’s surface, we sat quietly, each of our minds filled with different thoughts, but both of our hearts filled with the same love, admiration, gratitude, and joy that our simple life on the river has brought.
As the ink stains the waterproof paper my mother-in-law so kindly bought me, a big gust came to surge Solvi along the water’s surface. The sun is hiding behind a thin layer of clouds, teasing me by coming out for a minute before tucking behind the clouds agains. There is a chill in the air so I am bundled sitting in the bilge to hide from the wind. The river is big and beautiful where we are. Very little development between the barge docks, giving way to long stretches of natural land that doesn’t have the human species written all over it. I like it. We will be arriving in Cape Giradeau tomorrow which I am looking forward to because we running low on water. My parents sent another package there containing our warmer clothes and our next chart book. There are 2 chart books for the Mississippi- Upper and Lower. Kyle and I both feel a bit excited about starting a new chart book. When we first started this journey on the St. Croix River I couldn’t imagine making it to the second book. But now, we are 860 miles south of where we started. Crazy!
Well, it’s almost my shift and I am looking forward to getting behind the helm. Solvi is sailing so fast and it always provides exhilaration and a feeling of being alive. For the past few years I have asked myself the question: ‘Are you living? Or just existing?’ I feel I can confidently say not only am I living, I am thriving.